Sunday, September 30, 2012

In Ukraine, new funds for survivors brings high—some say unrealistic—expectations


Holocaust survivor Larisa Rakovskaya in her Odessa apartment, Sept. 14, 2012.  (Cnaan Liphshiz)
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Holocaust survivor Larisa Rakovskaya in her Odessa apartment, Sept. 14, 2012. (Cnaan Liphshiz)
ODESSA, Ukraine (JTA) -- In her dilapidated apartment, Larisa Rakovskaya examines a stack of unpaid heating bills. Sick and alone, the 86-year-old Holocaust survivor and widow is preparing for another encounter with the cold, her “worst and only fear.”
Rakovskaya says her hope of staying warm this winter lies with a one-time payment of approximately $3,200 that she may receive from Germany via the Claims Conference following Berlin’s recent decision to include victims of Nazi persecution in the former Soviet Union as beneficiaries of the so-called Hardship Fund. Some 80,000 survivors across the former Soviet Union are expected to qualify for the payouts, half of them in Ukraine, where a crumbling welfare system often leaves the old and disabled to live and die in penury.
Rakovskaya says that once she uses the Hardship Fund payment to pay off the few hundred dollars of debt she owes utilities, she wants to visit Israel for the first time.
“I don’t want to renovate, and I don’t need a boiler. My last wish is to see Jerusalem,” she tells JTA.
Marina, her social worker from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, asks Rakovskaya to “be realistic” and use the money for day-to-day living.
The Claims Conference, which negotiated the expansion of the Hardship Fund with Germany, says the money will have “an enormous impact.” The application process starts in November, and eligible claimants are expected to be approved as quickly as eight weeks afterward, according to Claims Conference spokeswoman Hillary Kessler-Godin. Applications will be processed throughout most of 2013.
JDC, which funds Jewish welfare operations in the former Soviet Union known as Heseds, called the new money a “welcome addition” but cautioned that survivors, as well as other Jews in the region, still need ongoing assistance. 
Rakovskaya lives on a $111 monthly government pension in a one-bedroom apartment with her small dog, Chunya. Old newspapers absorb humidity from the broken floor; the brown walls are crumbling. With no hot water, she heats water over an electric stove and then washes over a rusty sink. She has managed to get food and medicine and keep her home heated thanks to support from her local Hesed.
Established in the 1990s, Hesed provides relief, medical services and food to approximately 170,000 Jews in former Soviet countries. JDC’s 2012 budget for welfare and social services in the former Soviet Union comes to $113.5 million. Some of the money comes from the Claims Conference, which funds Hesed programs directed at Holocaust survivors. In 2011, those funds reached approximately $75 million. 
Approximately 7,000 Hesed clients live in Odessa, a city with a Jewish population estimated at 40,000. Ukraine has some 360,000 to 400,000 Jews, according to the European Jewish Congress.
Rakovskaya has experienced far worse living conditions. As a girl she had to live with her mother in the catacombs that run under Odessa’s streets. They went underground after Romanian soldiers occupied the city in 1941 as allies of Nazi Germany. Once home to 200,000 Jews, only about 90,000 remained when the Romanians arrived. Most of them were murdered. 
Thanks to her father’s non-Jewish last name, Rakovskaya and her Jewish mother were able to slip through the roundups.
Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, told JTA that the new Hardship Fund payment is the fruit of 20 years of labor.
During the Cold War, Germany “understandably” resisted compensating victims living behind the Iron Curtain for fear that Soviet regimes would confiscate the money, Schneider said. Since communism collapsed, the Claims Conference has “asked, pushed, pressed, urged and cajoled” Germany to compensate victims living in Eastern Europe just like victims living in the West. 
“I think it’s too late, but we’re happy this is finally happening,” he said. “For a Western,” he said, the $3,200 is “the equivalent of receiving a year’s worth of pension.”
Asher Ostrin, the JDC’s director of activities in the FSU, calls the fund “a welcome addition,” but also says "It will not elevate anyone from extreme poverty to middle-class comfort.”
Many of the Holocaust survivors who will receive the one-time payment from Germany will continue to be aided by Hesed, which has many other clients who are not Holocaust survivors. 
One of the recipients is Svetlana Mursalova, 56. Once a social worker for Hesed, she suffered a crippling hip fracture that rendered her bedridden and unable to work. She says her two children have no interest in her, leaving her to survive on a monthly disability pension of $109.
“Without the help from Hesed, I would need to choose between food and medicines. I would have died,” she told JTA. “My situation is very painful because I always used to look after myself and others. But you have to stay optimistic.”
On her wall is a portrait of her Siamese cat, Marquis, which she describes as her best friend. Mursalova thought about leaving for Israel, she says, but now that she is unable to walk properly, “leaving is even more difficult than staying.”
Ostrin says many poor Jews resist immigrating to Israel for fear of the unfamiliar and a deep attachment to their apartments -- often the only property they managed to keep during and after communism.
Although tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews require JDC charity to get by, a small number of Jews have become wealthy since the collapse of communism. In recent years they have been involved increasingly in charity and in projects that promote a self-sustainable Jewish life here, according to Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.
One example is a Jewish kindergarten with 40 pupils and a long waiting list of parents willing to pay the $500 monthly fee -- approximately double the national average salary. The money keeps the school running, but also helps fund community services and activities ranging from pottery and aerobics lessons for the elderly to basketball tournaments for teenagers.   
Those parents, however, represent “a very thin layer of rich Jews who are unable to tend to the serious needs of the elderly and poor,” Dolinsky says. “Without the generous support of American Jewry, we would face a humanitarian disaster.”
Dolinsky says the new funds secured by the Claims Conference “will not change anything on the fundamental level, but they are important for the recipients and as a form of belated justice.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Better Together Ashkelon

Better Together improves services for children and youth in disadvantaged communities such as development towns on Israel's periphery and poor inner city neighborhoods, by maximizing local resources and forging partnerships between residents and service providers.  It improves existing services and creates new programs, ac companying children from birth to 18, morning till night, school to home. The program focuses include early childhood development and academic assistance and enrichment activities, while engaging parents, teachers and community leaders in strengthening communities.
Location: Matnas Shapira, Neve Alonim, Ashkelon

BT is in s even locations in the South today. Sivan is the brand-new (this week) BT Ashkelon coordinator. We do a tour of the neighborhood. Shapira is a large neighborhood in the ‘middle’ from a socioeconomic standpoint. 16,000 residents, including many FSU olim, Eth-Isrs, veteran elderly. The stronger younger families move up to Barnea. Elderly and weak stay in Neve Alonim. The streets are fairly clean (the municipality emphasizes street cleaning) but empty and neglected. This is the southernmost area of Ashkelon, which developed north. Vaknin was born here.
Outside the kindergarten it’s nearly all fathers, recognizably Ethiopian or FSU.

David is Matnas Director, he has a good reputation. January 2010 BT came to Ashkelon, there's been less vandalism, more pride in the neighborhood. You can see more energy here, more activity. The school next to the Matnas also improved its infrastructure. (BT doesn’t invest in physical infrastructure but it’s important to encourage and strengthen the local authority to do so; BT focuses on the programmatic and social ele ments).

In the photos: Room 6 is the early ch ildhood room
The moadon room was redesigned by an architect from Hatzeva. It was officially opened last week, though programs have been running since the summer. It’s very comfortable, well-designed chairs, original art, two brand-new computers, good lighting, clean walls.

CHELI is a social work student doing her training here  (black shirt and pink)
RAVIT is the mother in brown
LOREN is her daughter, here for English classes
BELLE is the educational coordinator
MARGALIT is the youth activities coordinator
SIVAN is the BT coordinator

Margalit: the youth activities coordinator has to pull everything together, cooperate, create new opportunities and an informational structure that allows us to know what's happening with each youth, so that no one falls between the chairs. We have Noar B’Aliyah youth movement garin and we integrate the parents into the activities. It was difficult to bring the parents and children together. There are groups for cinema, communications, meeting professionals, sports instructor group, and more.

There are several older madrichim. Margalit is from Jerusalem, decided to live here with her Garin. They finished the army a year ago and settled right here in the neighborhood. We’re creating a continuum of educational service, focused right now on the 9th grade, and will be expanded.

JENNY is an 11th grader, born in Ukraine. Started volunteering in 9th grade. She says that this week there were 100 youth taking part in activities; we’ve undergone a massive change this last year. I’d rather be here than wandering the street. The 11th grade is responsible for activities like the forum, chanuka party, summer camp. Jenny is also an artist – she drew the main mural on the wall of the early childhood room. Wants to go for officer training in the army, has learned about leadership and personal example from the program here. My volunteering here has helped me in life.

BELLE is in charge of the educational center for math and English. 51 kids come to the center, they have 6 teachers (4 from the commune/garin). Loren is here to study English and math, she's very serious, highly motivated.  Belle notes that the center allows us to identify needs and behavioral difficulties not just in the subjects being taught. Loren’s mother takes part.
Loren’s mother loves it because at school there are 40 kids in the English class. Here there are two. Loren is progressing well, she loves it too. It’s my future success, it strengthens me, my grades are improving. Loren’s mom loves that she comes here now from her own free will, she enjoys being here.

DAVID what we have here is boosting the weakest sectors, narrowing the gaps, empowering, improving people’s self-confidence. There are solutions here that you can't get at the schools and people can feel at home here.

CHELI we have 60 families of kids aged 4-6 taking part in enrichment classes, improving parent-child communication; identifying development problems, referring to the right solutions, developing child skills. There are lots of parents especially here who don’t know how to play with their kids, we need to teach the parents, show them how to be caring, patient, understanding, give guidance, but retaining appropriate parental authority. It changes people’s homes and families for the better.
There's a process, but we see change and progress. We’ve often seen parents come with the expectation that they'd drop off the kids in front of the TV. That’s not going to happen here.
There's a program twice a week for kids under age 2. The mothers’ forum meets around problems, challenges, need to work through concepts, to speak, to discuss. Empower them with skills. How to move from diapers, how to talk to kids, how to play. What's interesting is that they have the ‘formal’ discussion but we see them continuing the discussion outside. There’s an added extra.

David: we’re sending out from here better citizens like Jenny and Victoria. There are quality people here, we can find them and help them. There were those who didn’t speak, we didn’t see or hear them. David tells the story of a 9th grade boy who didn’t speak, wouldn’t look you in the eyes, stammered. Now in 10th grade, takes part here actively, volunteers, smiles, looks you in the eyes, has confidence. It’s because of the learning center and the special attention.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Shemesh Ashkelon

The entire family is responsible for granting children with special needs the critical experience of growing up in a warm and supportive environment that accepts them as a full member of the family. However, often times the family has limited expectations for special needs children and thinks of them as a permanent burden. This attitude threatens to prevent these children from ever fully rehabilitating. JDC developed the Shemesh (the Hebrew word for sun) program in order to provide families with the tools needed to encourage their children to reach their full potential. Shemesh helps break the cycle of disappointment and provides families with a new ray of hope for their special needs children (age birth to six). It spreads the strengths and experiences gained by other families with similar challenges through mentorship, training and community programs.
Location: Merkaz Meyda, 1 Dibolt St. Ashkelon (a shelter building)

Shemesh is a program to empower the parents of children with special needs. It uses more experienced parents as mentors for new SN families
It takes place in three locations: Rosh Ha’ayin, Baka El-Gabiyeh and Ashkelon
Abuse and neglect among SN children is two to four times higher due to communications issues.
Integration in the schools, army, etc is critical, prevent loneliness
Strengthen the families, who often suffer greatly with an SN child. An SN child completely changes the family dynamic and balance. The parents see their child every day; the professionals don’t have that level of commitment, intuition.           

It took 10 years to set up Shemesh. The “kesher” NGO runs the program. The idea is also to have parents on the steering committee and professional committee. The parents have experience, knowledge.

MICHAL [amazing] is the Shemesh National Coordinator. Mother of 4 children, including a set of twins, one – Tomer – with special needs who was born without a functioning kidney. He fought and survived, at the age of 7 had a transplant but until then didn’t develop properly, lost brain and physical capacity, diminished speech and vision.
At the age of 12 Tomer developed lymphoma, pains and other side-effects to the anti-rejection medicine for the kidney. He did dialysis for two years, it was awful, we didn’t see the horizon. All this time he didn’t grow or develop. In 2007 he underwent another kidney transplant, this one caught well, he started to grow. We moved him to special education, he finished 12th grade and wanted to go to the army. Now he’s doing national service in the police. He lives in a special needs apartment, he lives on his own and I'm letting him flourish. I was very depressed when he left at first.

I studied social work. I didn’t want to work as a social worker, I had an MA in organizational management. When the twins were 3.5 I quit my job as a personnel manager because I wanted a sense of purpose in social action. Then I did an MA in social work. I set up a special needs center in Kochav-Yair. I saw an email from the Joint that they were looking for a coordinator for Shemesh, with one line that grabbed my attention, that preference would be given to parents of children with special needs. Within two weeks I was being interviewed and knew I wanted the job. I'm very happy.

The stories are the focus of the program. We want to transmit a positive message to the parents. It doesn’t matter what religion, culture, location – the grappling with this reality is shared.

MAZAL from the Ashkelon Municipality Welfare Department. We built this on the success of the accessible community program, we opened an information center, course for ten activists with special needs.
16 parents are participating. The group was set up quickly – we were surprised how much eagerness there was for this: blind, retardation, deaf.
[Better Together will also build a special needs track emphasizing youth at risk and their parents:
develop services
community forum
training professionals, workshops
Within these we want to develop a special needs track. In Rosh Ha’Ain there is a Better Together and Shemesh]

YAEL is the Shemesh coordinator in Ashkelon. She was the accessible community coordinator for two years; JDC provides the Hosen program for the community, and in the last two years I’ve seen the work of the Joint. I'm a single mother and adopted a child from Russia with special needs four years ago.
The current workshop is amazing.

ETTI (in orange): I didn’t think twice. I immediately said yes. There's so little knowledge. I had a girl with Downs Syndrome 30 years ago. I was in complete shock, I didn’t know what to do. They said it was a mongloid. It was my third baby, I had two healthy daughters and now this storm. I ran away from the hospital to my normal life. I couldn’t listen, people thought they could help but I didn’t want to talk to them. I wanted a normal family. I cried for several weeks, I decided to give her up for adoption. There was a social worker who said to me, ok, let’s go see her so you can say goodbye in the hospital. I thought, she’ll be ugly, scary. Ok, fine, let’s say goodbye and that way I can cut off. I was scared when I went in. The nurse took her diaper off and I saw that they hadn’t been treating her well, she had a wound near her diaper. I was angry, my daughter wasn’t being treated right, where’s my commitment as her mother, I should take her home.  Her name is Vered.
The first year wasn’t easy. I didn’t want any contact with other parents. I thought I was different. But slowly I met other parents, we set up a support group, we would meet once a week, things changed. Vered became the focus of the family. We would run from one treatment to the next, the whole family was recruited to this effort. It harmed the other girls (she had another daughter after Vered) – we invested so much in her and neglected somewhat the others. We didn’t really understand how to do this, we made lots of mistakes. I just wanted what was best.
Vered lived with us until she was 27 at home. Now she lives in a hostel, she's very happy. She comes every Shabbat for dinner, all the family gathers together. She has given so much to this family, taught her sisters so much. Thanks to her we’ve developed as a family, we’re a caring, emotional, understanding family thanks to her. The home is open, tolerant, we’re a good family.

ESTHER is the mother of Noa, aged 22 with shituk mochin. Got a phonecall from Yael four months ago about the program. 

Michal: there was a woman on a panel in a Shemesh discussion with two special needs kids, who said that she prays that if God takes her that he’ll also take the kids immediately because they won't succeed in living without her.

Shemesh stages:
Identify and connect to parents of special needs kids, with a little free time. Empower them in the escorts group. 21 meetings, once a week for 5 months every Wednesday evening. It trains them to  escort new special needs famil ies. The emphasis is that the escorts don’t give advice or solutions, rather to respect each family and the stage it’s in, to listen and to understand. The course has a syllabus: active listening, reacting to situations, judgementalism, identity, siblings, family functioning and much more.
During the course, they’re assigned to the families. Each has 3 families.
Yael is a hotline for assistance.
Yael is also trained at the same time
The families go through a process. There’s lasting impact

The program is for three years, the course is for a year. The Welfare Department has 1000 households identified as special needs (out of 40,000 total households in the city).

Monday, September 24, 2012

Merhav Ashkelon

Merhav aims to ensure that elementary school children from underprivileged communities are adequately prepared for junior high school. It does this by focusing on students, staff and city decision-makers. In schools, Merhav establishes cooperation between educational, psychological and welfare services. Through teacher training and supplemental resources, the school day is extended and in-school counseling, academic support and parent-child activities are made available. On a city level, Merhav places the needs of at-risk students firmly on the agenda.
Location: Harel School, Shai Agnon St. Shimshon Neighborhood, Ashkelon

RUT BEN-VALID is the school principal

School is usually open till 1pm. Three times a week they open till 5pm with activities, drama, youth movement. Here they have Noam (Conservatives). The school has won prizes. They have a psychologist once a week, social worker, therapist.

Animal therapy is especially for youth at risk, difficulties, children of drug addicts. Identified by their problems. Snake, hamster, rabbit. They learn to connect, to stroke, to be calm.
MIRI is the coordinator, I’ve seen and heard amazing things here. One boy’s father is in Assaf Harofe Hospital in Ramle, t he neighbors take care of me, he was crying. She explained later that the father is in jail, not hospital. It took four meetings for him to open up. They slowly open and share.

AYAL is holding the rabbit. It’s nice, it’s pleasant. I'm usually on edge (atzbani), I argue. Here I can overcome.

It’s a weak neighborhood. Rut says that since she's been here, “the strong have left and only the weak have remained.”
We go to the ‘lighthouse’ structure to see the gifted students’ ‘planetarium.’ They're learning about stars and the galaxies. They built a nature exhibit last year. Now they’re building a supernova. ZOHAR is the teacher.

We’re watching a dance troupe for girls from first to sixth grade. They work very hard on this, they love appearing.

DITI (Ashalim Merhav coordinator)
The program was developed in 2 003 now works in 30 locations. The pilot was Ashkelon and Afula.

RUT (Principal)
Merhav came in eight years ago. The neighborhood is classed as 8 in the 0-10 socioeconomic neglect scale (i.e. very poor and neglected). Lots of children-at-risk with parents who are unemployed, in jail, taking drugs, single-parents:
45% are single-parents
20% are immigrants
40% are veteran immigrants who didn’t yet adapt
We had a problem with violent parents, children were beaten, tough homes. Even violence inside the school, even against teachers. There was a negative atmosphere. We had 220 children. Now we have 450 children. Merhav said to us “dream” and we opened the school till 6pm. The holistic view, everything under one roof, responsibility for the child and also for the family. We can bring the family here to sit with the social worker. Let’s break the paradigm, let’s solve this together. We mapped everything out; all the children here were basically at-risk, not a percentage but all of them. We had to give a solution for all of them. The school became the center, we didn’t send them away. Social worker, psychologist, clothing, hot meal. Every year Rut has a group from France who bring packages of clothes and sneakers.
Rut: I was very young, I was 30 years old. There were shouts, screams, threats, violence. I was afraid to come in. They threatened to burn my car and more. We received three years of close escorting from a social worker. The children are no longer wandering the streets at night, little prostitution and drugs. Now we have a framework and activities. They have nothing at home.

We’ve become like a school in the North, we’re one of the top 56 schools in the country, see the movie they did. Everyone wants to send their kids here.  They even change addresses so they're here.
Rut is being promoted to the Education Ministry so she has mixed feelings. We raised people’s sense of pride here, we brought in new flooring. My husband is a doctor in the emergency room. When people want to thank him, to donate something, he suggests they give something to the school: flooring, clothing, furniture. Now the children also look after the school, it’s their home. It’s been a dream fulfilled to show the State we can succeed.

Our graduates are very much in demand in the middle school. This is a Tali school, we have good values.  Tali at first didn’t want to come in here. But now we received an award from them for excellence. The school is elementary for grades 1 through 6. There are still difficulties, it’s still a difficult population. But there's still a lot of pride. The parents now come with programmatic demands, they're proud of the school, it’s a successful model. Not because of the funds but because of the perspective. But you still need money.
There was opposition from the teachers, staying till 6pm. There was a strike, they were angry. But they saw it was successful. At lunch you see how the children are starving, they devour the food because it’s the only real meal they get all day.

The school is very influential now in the neighborhood. We have more parents who are teachers, doctors, police. About 10% are now stronger population, it strengthens us.  But at-risk isn’t just poverty. There was a family where the father was a policeman but the children were beaten. Even without financial problems you can have risk.

Merhav comes straight to the children without filters. The kids were amazed, they'd never been in activities, music, drama, dance. They didn’t know how to play an instrument, to listen to classical music, never been to theater.
We’ve won ten international prizes, the kids have won prizes for art and cinema. You have to believe in them. We became experts in building programs. They come from all over the country to see how our teachers work. We’ve learned how to teach. The kids are learning how to believe in themselves: I can do it, I can present, I can perform.

SHOVAL is one of 8 kids at home, 4 sets o f twins, 6th grade. There’s no father at home. He was violent and abusive. Today they're doing well because the pr ogram can help them. Elementary school is the base, it’s the infrastructure. It shapes the child. Without the activities we’d just be wandering the street, it’s so much nicer now. I can do music and theater; we put on a performance at the end of the last school year. We love the school, it’s like home. I want to be an
actress when I grow up.

[there are two special needs classes in Merhav here]

The parents don’t really have money, but we charge them 2 NIS per activity, so they’ll feel compelled. They also do a lot of fundraising for the school. Shuval received sneakers and clothes and a coat.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Center for Young Adults Be'ersheva

JDC's Centers for Young Adults offer immigrant and disadvantaged young adults the skills and information on which to build productive adult lives.  Services include counseling regarding higher education and vocational training; employment readiness; and life skills, such as financial literacy. Centers help participants make decisions in critical areas spanning army, family, education and employment, easing the youth to adulthood transition and preventing chronic unemployment and poverty later in life.  Community-building and leadership opportunities allow young adults to give back.

Location: Startup Center, 16 Hashalom St. Beer Sheva
Contact Person: Yiffat Hillel, CYA southern coordinator,
Amitzur, Yohann, Director of Parliament

There were 8 CYAs in the South. In the last year we opened three new ones: Eilat, Rahat and Mitzpe Ramon.
Eilat: 50% of the population is young (same as Rahat), and it has the highest percentage of single-parent women in the country, low salaries. 65% earn minimum wage. Eilat receives half a million young people every year, mostly for the hotel/tourism industry. There’s real need to open a Center there. It’s located at the High-Max between the two halves of the city. There’s a lot of motivation to work, the team is very positive, the Eilat mayor is very supportive and there’s huge potential. There was a concept to open a Center in Akaba, maybe to go international.

The Negev suffers from negative migration, a lot of quality young people are leaving.

It takes on average 6-7 years for a Beduin to finish a BA. Lots of dropouts. Lots of obstacles.

The guiding logic is local because that’s the emphasis of the municipalities. But we’re also developing a regional perspective, for education and employment. Regional employment is critical because it also serves the Centers. The Directors work also intuitively because they know what’s important, they create cooperation opportunities.

Industrial zones are regional, not local.
The IDF training bases are moving South; the Southern mayors can't deal with this challenge on their own: absorbing families, finding employment for spouses, creating social/communal agendas.
The cities are small, no bigger than 20,000 each in the South. It’s not the mass numbers in the Center even if the geographic size is bigger.
There’s some great culture even though people don’t really think about culture in the South – there’s a great theater group in Dimona, but someone from Beersheva won't go to Dimona for the theater. They’ll go to Tel Aviv. You need to create a feeling of belonging. Only Dimonaim go to the Dimona theater.

The training bases (Ba’hdim) will have fully moved South by 2018. There is a GOI decision to set up 10 new towns in the South. It’s not clear who will benefit or suffer from this. There's no planning. The CYAs are therefore critical in this discussion and the Parliaments are the focus. The Arad Parliament invited the 10-Town plan to a discussion, and other community leaders participated. It empowered the youth, and gave them positive community activist roles.

How do you solve employment problems:
on an individual level – training, courses, referrals
interaction with the local authority, bringing companies and employers
both the above with additional value, creating a venue for synergy

CYA is grappling with the employment issue:
There's a municipal employment forum in Beersheva, trying to find solutions. There's a supply of jobs but not enough demand because lots of those who finish university don’t even look for a job, they just assume there aren’t any.


Emphasize the community aspect and not just the employment. Social engagement on a deep and meaningful level will help you find a job better when you live here and have roots.

Cooperating with the municipality and employers on placement. There's actually a good supply of jobs but a poor image, as if it’s harder than reality. Be’ersheva isn’t seen by most people as a place in which you can succeed. It’s starting to change but very slowly. The university here is a bubble, so when you finish studying you won't have been very involved in the city life. If during your studies you lived in the good neighborhoods (Chet, Tet) you’re much more likely to stay. But if you lived in Gimel or Daled you won't. In the good neighborhoods, you’ll see good infrastructure, education, community. According to the research, only one in ten of students who come to Be’ersheva to study will even contemplate staying. Of them, 80% are already from the Negev.

We meet with the Parliament taskforce discussing the new proposed civilian airport at Nevatim. They had a public meeting with 200 participants, put forward an agenda. The top concern here is jobs; the claim is that a regional airport will create 10,000 jobs. We turned to the mayors, created a lobbying focus, we did a campaign “let the Negev take off.” The emphasis was to put employment at the focus of the discussion on the airport. We don’t have any political strength or experience but we have an opportunity to talk from the heart and the head, people listen. We have tools in the Parliament. Creating an infrastructure, speaking with the mayors, employers, Knesset and GOI representatives. 

There's nowhere else where we can do this. [You can see the enthusiasm, the self-respect, the positive image]

Friday, September 21, 2012

Arab-Israeli One Stop Employment Center

JDC's Cityworks program works to help adults in the Arab sector, attain self-sufficiency and restore their economic independence by enabling cities to provide economic opportunities for their constituents. The model's success stems from its ability to place the responsibility for employment assistance firmly in the hands of local authorities by empowering them to fulfill this charge.
Location: Matnas Segev Shalom  “Rian Center

We start our visit at the Of Oz Chicken Factory. 180 of the 700 workers in the factory came from Rian, The Center works in several locations, Segev, Chora, more to come. There was a culture of not-working here so it wasn’t easy to get started. We invested heavily in local leadership to persuade people to work. You can’t open a factory here if people won’t work and even now there's massive turnover. People leave after a day or two and they don’t return. Why bother. We’re trying to enhance and deepen a sense of commitment to work. That every community will be talking about work. Now we’re seeing people who final understand the value of work.

We opened a women’s chef’s course because men and women cooked separately at weddings and events. They would bring cooks from the territories, so it was important to develop a local initiative.

The Of Oz factory: they have 1300 workers on the list but only 700 actually work there. Some only came for a day, or didn’t even turn up. But those that have been coming in to work regularly feel like they belong. There are 30 year olds (and older) who have never worked, but they love to come in, it opens up a new world for them. Increasing work commitment, increasing sense of protecting and preserving the work equipment.

The connection between the factory (in planning) and the Center began some ten years ago, but the factory only opened last year. They ran recruitment days in the local Matnas and ran interviews.
Note the photo of the main floor (“piruk”) where you have men and women separate, and a separate line of women wearing head-coverings. It was important for everyone to preserve ways to integrate, allow women to find a career path.

Segev Shalom is a Beduin town, 7000 population, of which 60% are aged under 18. Meaning of the word Rian is fertile ground in Arabic. The Center is in the basement of the local Matnas.

BADR is the Rian Center Director. The team chose the name because they felt it was important to emphasize the local roots. There is a clear lack of trust in GOI.

MUHAMAD is the overall Director for the region: when they opened the factory people stopped coming to the Center because they thought it was the same thing. So we had to go out and explain to people. There are huge challenges and also successes. Usually there’s no investment in people here; now we have a chance. People need to go through a process, and that’s not easy. Sometimes five meetings isn’t enough. People have excuses, problems, but we don’t despair. We feel a sense of mission. Our aim is empowerment, changing the culture of work. It’s critical because what was created here left people without the tools to work. Everything changed here. Once, everyone worked. But the urbanization process changed us and we didn’t have the tools to work. People received handouts and they got used to it, and now you have a second generation (and perhaps even third) of unemployed. People developed ‘walls’ – I can’t do it, they won’t accept me. But the work market is open to accepting them.

BADR Segev Shalom has 7500 residents and another 5000 in the outlying areas who receive health and education services. The town was recognized in 1999. 60% are under the age of 18.
3400 are working-age.
1400 are working according to a 2008 survey, now it’s probably closer to 2000. 30% of working-age women actually work.

The program has an advisory committee from the community, they convene, discuss, give and receive updates. There’s a monthly updates page that goes out to 250 managers in the area.
The Center has “easy” and “difficult” participants, defined by the need to invest energy in them, level of Hebrew language, and more. The critical emphasis is on the amount of professional training needed.

RAVICHA (in the purple head-covering) participated in the metaplot course. The Rian Center published a note in the town about courses , I went, it was 8 months long, because I didn’t need to go to Beersheva (like with the other course, two years ago, which I couldn’t do). But the Segev course is ours, it’s real, it’s close. I have five children in my mishpachton, the families pay a symbolic sum to take part.
Ravicha had never worked before. The metaplot course opened a new world for her, and now for other women, because if you can offer arrangements for children then the mothers can find a job. Ravicha smiles. I enjoy my job. I want to send my kids to study in university. My husband wasn’t opposed to my working because I'm bringing home money.

MIRIAM (in the blue-white covering) is the occupational community social worker. You can take people out of the cycle of poverty now because we have a budget and willingness to overcome the negatives in our society. It was obvious that we’re not just talking about numbers but rather about social change. There was a circle of unemployment and helplessness. It’s not an easy process, you need a lot of patience. It’s not just the husbands, it’s also the language, the culture.
There are 40 women from Segev who work in agricultural greenhouses – but even there you need basic Hebrew, so we needed to train them.

Rian has run courses on such subjects as air-conditioning installation, electrician, engineering, car electrics, welding. They needed to work with very different groups: men, women, youth. They set up an Imams Forum, and the Imams were very supportive, they could hand out flyers in the mosques). They worked in the schools on explanation, to try to change how youth think about employment in a three-stage process (first stage already happened):
explaining what is the employment scene, supply and demand of jobs, equipping the youth with basic concepts, how to write a resume.
Meeting with experts
Meeting at the Center

The professionals run home visits, they get neighbors together, explanation materials. They don’t have enough professionals. There are two supplemental classes for people to finish 10th and 12th grades. There are problems with low self-image. In practically every kind of job you have to go through a placement exam with a personnel firm, therefore the placement exam is critical; it’s a huge obstacle so we’re working to promote culturally-sensitive testing.
They have 820 people listed in their database, of whom 417 are working. Half of them are women, 70 are in courses.

In the Sherut Taasuka 7% find employment
With the personnel agencies, 20% find employment
With the Riad Center, 50% find employment. This is a huge achievement.

As you walk out of the Matnas you can see the town. Every house still has a tent next to it; that’s where people sit in the evenings. Not everyone has accepted the concept of urban life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Laulicht center and Nutrition activities in Ofakim

This city-wide program improves the health of at-risk children through launching nutrition and healthy living educational programs in schools and community centers and educating parents and teachers about nutrition and health.  It improves children’s nutrition, physical fitness and dental care habits, countering rising rates of obesity, malnutrition and disease, and enabling children to fulfill their educational and social potential.  It focuses on teaching parents and educators practical, low-cost methods for improving the eating and health habits of at-risk children.
Location: 73 Herzl St. Ofakim (opposite Kikar Hayona)

The program “The Race to the Kitchen” – each time the dietician presents another country, they learn a little about the culture, the food, eating customs, a few words. Last week they did China, this week Switzerland. They learned last week about chopsticks, eating slowly, widening horizons. Each child gets to create something of his/her own to eat, it’s a fun activity and very educational. They’re proud of what they make. They learn that food is made up of healthy components. Today they're going to make a Swiss pie with cheese, vegetables etc and a cookie cake.
The nutrition program works with the municipality. They’ve seen changes in the eating habits of the children and it’s changing the way the city looks. Ofakim this year is a pilot city for “Healthy Cities” including meetings with doctors and nurses, dieticians, right now in four kindergartens. We’re the pilot because we’ve run this program for three years and have identified the huge potential in recruiting professionals. It requires a lot from the kindergarten teachers and assistants. But it’s very attractive. The breakfast exposes them to healthy foods like tehina and sardines that they might not receive at home, setting a table, healthy eating, clearing away the table.
The approach of the Center was that most of the activities would take place here, we’re building a unique center to serve the entire community. In the future we’ll have parents’ groups, mothers’ groups. How to cook, nutritional support, etc. We’ll have a syllabus of courses and activities to empower families and develop the community. There’s huge potential here. There’s a growing problem of obesity, especially with girls. They eat junk and there's no awareness.
The Kitchen’s target audiences are professionals, parents, youth, children. It gives an equal introduction to all, good therapy, emotional boost.

Photos: “Race for the Kitchen” this week in Switzerland. This is the second meeting. Adi is the dietician. She explains a little bit about Europe, Switzerland. The kids are aged 9-12. They’ve been referred by the Social Welfare Department of the Municipality.
How do we make pies, what are the ingredients, what’s in a recipe. Each child fills half a cup with carrot, zucchini, onion, pepper, mix them up.
They have a 10th grade volunteer. Shoshana is the House Mother and cook.
Adi mixes cottage cheese, eggs, flour and each child takes a large spoonful into his/her cup, mix and then pour into the molds. There's huge satisfaction.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Home visit to JFS/ Children's Initiative Family

Family members:
Son: Bogdan (2001) aged 11
Daughter: Ruslana (2008) aged 4
Mother: Marina, aged 34
Grandmother: Yevdokiya

Family situation: Marina is a single mother raising two children: 11-year old Bogdan and 4-year old Ruslana. Bogdan has poor health and suffers from very serious chronic diseases, including asthenoneurotic syndrome and epilepsy. Despite his health problems, the boy loves football and is a very enthusiastic soccer player. Having to look after a sick son and little younger daughter, Marina had to stay home unemployed. For all this time the family survived from the grandmother’s modest pension. Only recently Marina found a job and started to receive minimal but at least regular income.

Living situation: the family shares an old private house with remote relatives, with whom the relationship is very tense, and there is almost no communication. The accommodation is very poor, lacking basic conveniences.

Family monthly income: the family survives on the $112 salary of the mother and the $114 grandmother’s pension.

Help received from JDC:
  • Monthly assistance from the Food Card program
  • Winter relief (bed linen set and blanket)
  • Baby carriage
  • Clothing and school supplies for Bogdan
  • Medicines as needed
Inna is the case worker. They live deep in the south on the right bank. Inna has 100 cases, different frequencies of visits. With this family she meets once a month and speaks once a week on the phone. The family is “needy” but not the worst case.

The main challenge of the case worker is money, especially when the family needs funds for medical care or treatment and we don’t have enough to spare. The connection with the family started because Yevdokiya is a Hesed client, the case worker told the family when Bogdan was born about options through JFS, and also told JFS.

Inna has been working for 9 years with Hesed; her family became JFS clients, and she then became a volunteer, helping other families in the “Home Management Support” program. Then she was invited to become a professional in JFS because they love working with her and she loves the job. When she was in Hesed she did the social work course (distance learning in Dnepropetrovsk) from Solomon University in Kiev.

Marina took part in the JCC program “Mothers for a Better Future” in the computer class and home economics/basic work entry skills class. She got moral support, learned how to write a resume, be interviewed. Now she works in a convenience store. It gave her a lot of confidence.

The entire area is dirty, abandoned, neglected. We got lost because Inna normally gets public transport here and there aren’t good maps here, there are unrecognized/unofficial roads, etc. There's a residential quarter (neighborhood) in Zaporozhe that isn’t officially recognized … because it was officially torn down in the 50s!
Bogdan still has problems. Sweet kid, friendly. Inna is vital, says Marina. She helps. When I don’t know what to do she's there. I can call her. When Ruslana was in hospital, Inna helped, mediated, helped bring medicines that they didn’t have in the hospital. Inna has organized volunteers to stay with the children because Marina sometimes works a night shift or a 24-hour shift. She's built a good relationship with her boss, so if one of the kids is sick they are flexible. She works hard. The pay is low but the conditions are good.

Yevdokiya is sick.

They live far away from the JCC. The kids can't go to the summer camp because of their health problems. They come to JCC activities and programs, though this is difficult. Need to pay for transportation. There’s no bus from here – you pay for the private mashrutkas, cost twice as much, about $1.50 per person.

Bogdan is in fifth grade, loves soccer, especially France. Has a wide smile. Sometimes goes to JCC, last time I was there there was a show and a trip and we saw art.

Everything smells terrible in the house. Marina doesn’t have front teeth. Bogdan helps me go shopping, he carries the bags. He’s a good boy, he’s strong. "I don’t think there are other Jews in the neighborhood. There are some who are anti-Semitic and can say something about us getting help, I don’t care. But my mother doesn’t like that."

It takes Marina two mashrutkas to get to work, 3 UAH each trip, total of 12UAH.

JFS will bring a repair program to the house before summer 2013. The priority is to install a shower (they wash themselves in a sink/bowl). They have an outhouse, shared with the upstairs neighbors. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shining a light in Odessa

Shining a light in Odessa

As a child, one of my favorite pleasures each week was going to synagogue with my parents. At the end of each service, the rabbi would raise his arms aloft and recite the Birkat Kohanim -- the priestly blessing:
May God bless you and keep you.
May the light of God’s face shine upon you and bring you grace.
May God’s face shine upon you and grant you peace.
No matter what had happened that week in school, with friends or at home, that prayer always made me feel warm and protected.
I thought about that prayer again recently in Odessa, during a mission organized by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). We had just met Ada, 58, and bedridden for five years. Her eyesight is gone, and her body devastated by multiple sclerosis. She has not been outside in over a year. Ada told us she desperately missed the warm rays of sunshine that glow just beyond her front door, and dreams of a refrigerator to keep her medicines from spoiling.
With no children or spouse, Hesed volunteers for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), supported by Jewish Federations, have become Ada’s only contact outside the one-room world of her apartment. They deliver food packages, medicine and care literally hesed (compassion) each time they walk through her door. As the blessing says, we shine a light on Ada and keep her warm and protected.
As the national campaign chair at JFNA, I have been on many Jewish Federation missions, and each one reveals a new sense of inspiration. I pack my suitcase with the expectation that I cannot possibly learn anything new, and each time, my life is forever changed.
This mission was no different. Once a vibrant Jewish community, filled with incredible thinkers, poets and Zionist pioneers, Odessa was all but wiped clean of its Jewish identity under the Soviet regime. The Holocaust brought unimaginable death and destruction to a city of 180,000 Jews; by the time Odessa was liberated from the Nazis in 1944, only 600 remained.
Since then, the city has slowly been rediscovering its Jewish roots. About 35,000 Jews now call Odessa home, and a small, dedicated group has established a sense of Jewish culture and religious life.
We visited JDC’s Beit Grand, a bustling community center where a group of beautiful Jewish children staged an entire musical for us. We spent an afternoon at the Jewish Agency for Israel’s summer camp, where hundreds of teens danced to Israeli songs. In the very place where so many have tried to destroy Jewish life, there is a vibrant new generation of Jews, on the path to a flourishing future in Odessa.
As is tradition for most Jewish Federation missions, we spent the second half of our journey in Israel. The many highlights included candid discussions with President Shimon Peres and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, but the most striking experiences brought us from the past destruction of Odessa to the shining light of Israel.
We were privileged to travel with the incomparable Rabbi Michael Paley, the scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Resource Center of UJA-Federation of New York, who helped put the transition in context:
In Odessa we witnessed the last ingathering of exiled Jews, where Zionists fought for the creation of a Jewish state. When we arrived in Israel, we went straight to Haifa to the naval base, and later to the Kirya Israeli Defense Forces headquarters, where we learned about Israel’s Iron Dome.
From imagination and words to action and power in such a radically short amount of time. It hits you, when you step off the plane in Israel, that we did it. We didnt do it fast enough, and we left too many people in the ground, but we went from a dream to the state of Israel.
Before leaving Israel, we visited the Jewish Agency’s Mevasseret Zion Absorption Center, which was filled with adorable Ethiopian children. They were playing, singing and making crafts, ice cream smeared all over their smiling faces. I thought about Operation Solomon, which, with the support of Jewish Federations, brought more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. I thought about what kind of life these kids would have if theyd stayed in Ethiopia. We rescued their parents from the brink of civil war. We shined a light on them, and still today, keep them warm and protected.
We use the word mission to describe what we do, because a mission is so much more than a visit or a trip. Tourists can’t go behind the walls. They can’t see deeper, said the rabbi. On missions, we go as witnesses, which is much harder. We travel with a group that shares our ideals. And I believe we go as pilgrims, re-enacting the Jewish journey.

Susan K. Stern is the national campaign chair for the Jewish Federations of North America and chair of the President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
By Susan K. Stern  |  04:04 PM ET, 09/17/2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Do Good Ukraine!

Do Good Ukraine! and The World of Creativity 
JCC Youth volunteer initiatives for vulnerable populations, volunteer event  at the orphanage in Kiraba

Do Good Ukraine! is a unique project launched by JDC in December 2008 that aims to foster a national culture of voluntarism by encouraging youth participation in civil society and by collaborating with existing local networks in Eastern Ukraine to strengthen the third sector.  

Individuals and non-profit organizations are linked to volunteer opportunities through the Do Good, Ukraine! interactive web-based forum (

Do Good, Ukraine! coordinators (“Metsuda” graduates)  who work in the project cities of Donetsk and Zaporozhye organize volunteer activities in their local communities.  They focus on programs that expose young people to the concept of volunteering and attract surrounding social-networking organizations seeking to collaborate.

There are a lot of JCC volunteers in the special needs orphanage program; lots of different activities – dancing, balloon making, arts. SABINA is the coordinator (blonde in white dress), set up the group as part of her Metsuda project, now she has 15 volunteers helping 400 in the orphanage, they work with 12 institutions. They also collect in-kind donations for the kids.

It’s so difficult for these kids and you can see how these volunteers care, make an effort, show their kindness and love. They're mostly students or young professionals. There are kids with severe disabilities, retardation, one girl who looks 4 but is 14.

Sabina: volunteering is part of my life, I'm a part-time teacher for early childhood, also at the JCC part-time. It’s in my power if not to change the world then at least to help improve it. If I can see that I can do something then I’ll do it. It’s so rewarding to see the results. It’s important to see smiles.

Sabina didn’t know she was Jewish; she came with friends several years ago to the JCC and then discovered she's Jewish; she met her husband in the Metsudah program, now they're a very Jewish family – she jokes “I was his Metsudah project,” to set up a Jewish family. I was a blank sheet of paper and step by step I added letters on to the page. God sent me to the JCC because I didn’t know I was Jewish. Maybe intuition. I was 18, now I'm 26. (Father is Jewish, mother isn’t).